I keep being sent reminders of just how long I have been writing about progressive rock music, as here is yet another reissue of an album from aeons ago. Although looking at my records it appears I reviewed this 1996 debut at the same time as the follow-up, ‘Destiny?’, two years later (yes, I do realise that is still 20 years ago!). Mystery have changed somewhat over the years, both in personnel and in musical style, but guitarist Michel St-Père was driving them back then, just as he is now. Divided into two sections, “The Reality” and “The Dream”, those who have only come across the band since 2007’s ‘Beneath The Veil of Winter’s Face’ will be somewhat surprised to realise that they started their recording career as a band who had far more in common with Styx and Journey than their far more progressive stylings, although they also make their presence felt.
Many people liken original vocalist Gary Savoie as having a very similar voice to Steve Perry, and it is something I also said back then, but listening to this album again after so many years what really struck me was just how bloody good it is. The best song is “Black Roses”, which moves from gentle acoustic melodies led by a flute to Kansas-style rock, but there is movement throughout the whole album, with fluid arrangements and a band working really well together. It is easy to listen to, without ever falling into the trap of being easy listening, and feels fresh and invigorating.
In 2017 the 16 track audio tapes were restored and transferred in digital, and then completely re-mixed by Michel St-Père while respecting the original performance of the band also featuring Gary Savoie, Benoît Dupuis, Michel Painchaud, original artwork created by late drummer Stéphane Perreault and mastering by bassist Richard Addison. I have been a fan of the band for twenty years, yet I had forgotten just how enjoyable their debut album is. It may be scorned by prog purists, but in reality there are only two types of music in this world, good and bad, and this more definitely is the former. 8/10
On 11th May 2017 Opeth played the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado, and it has now been released DVD, Blu-Ray and vinyl formats. I was rather late coming to Opeth, but still remember when ‘Ghost Reveries’ came to my attention in 2005 – their 8thstudio album – and was absolutely blown away. Since then they have moved further into the progressive field, but in its truest sense, as they mix old school early Seventies organ-dominated progressive rock with death-influenced metal, often in the same song. There is no point in trying to work out what genre is the right place to fit Opeth as Mikael Åkerfeldt threw the rule book away long ago, if he ever owned a copy in the first place, and that is certainly debatable.
Harmonies and gentle baritone vocals can give way to death growls, and heavily commercial songs can turn into metallic monsters with little or no warning. There is a huge sound to the band, incredible to think that the noise is being created by just five people. It is bombastic, heavily over the top, yet can also fall into pure folk if that is what is needed. The band are in full control, and they take the crowd with them at all times. At one point Åkerfeldt tells the crowd that it is being recorded, but that if they then buy the album any mistakes will have magically disappeared!
There really isn’t any other band like Opeth, so if you are a fan then you simply must have this. And if you’re not, why not give a try anyway? 8/10
1979 was Year Zero for a new musical movement in the UK, and a term was coined by Deaf Barton which perfectly summed it up, NWOBHM. I was 16 at the time, listening to Tommy Vance on a Friday night, reading Sounds music magazine, and trying to buy as many singles and albums I could of the phenomenon. One of the issues I had was I lived in a small town in the West of England, and it was incredibly hard to get hold of material. So much so that I wrote to Neat Records asking how I could get hold of their material as no-one stocked it near me! I was soon the envy of my mates as they sent me stickers and badges to try and make up for it, all of them emblazoned with the logo of one of my favourite bands, Raven. There are a few singles from that time which have gone down in history, Iron Maiden’s “Soundhouse Tapes” and Def Leppard’s “Getcha Rocks Off” are just a couple. But in the North East Neat Records were becoming THE label, with one incredible release after another. Within their first ten singles was the debut by Tygers of Pan Tang, Fist, Venom, Blitzkrieg and “Don’t Need Your Money” by Raven (who incidentally were also the first band on the label to release a second single, as well as the first album).
Raven had decided to speed everything up, something they called athletic rock, and was a huge impact on the scene which followed – that both Metallica and Anthrax were given their first touring opportunities with Raven was no surprise to anyone. Over the years the Gallagher brothers (John, bass/vocals and Mark, guitar) have kept the flag flying for their style of metal, and for much of that time drummer Joe Hasselvander has been at the back, but shortly before their 2017 US tour he suffered a heart attack, putting an end to his active music career. After a few temporary replacements, it was quickly decided that Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) would be Raven’s new drummer. They settled in to doing what they do best, blasting uncompromising metal into the masses, and when they left the stage at Skråen in November they were presented with a digital copy of the gig they had just performed. What made this unusual is that none of the band were aware it was being recorded, so it was a case of turning up, plugging in, and blasting it out without any thought to what it might mean from a recording aspect.The band has been in existence now for some 44 years, and although I can’t speak for the very early years, what is playing now is a beefed-up version of the same band I fell in love with back in 1980. These guys are showing no sign at all of slowing down, or going down a different path, this is a band still playing “Faster Than The Speed of Light” and meaning every single word. It is harder and faster than it was when they were 30 years younger, and this set is essential to anyone who enjoys this style of music. It is brutal NWOBHM. Turn it up, play it loud, and party as if it 1979, not some forty years later. I may be seeing this with rose tinted glasses given how much I loved this band in my youth, but when metal is a brutal, raw, and bloody excellent as this, then it demands attention. 10/10
Johnston has long been pursuing his own brand of avant garde jazz, but this is the first time I have come across him outside of his band The Microscopic Septet (whose 2017 Cuneiform album ‘Been Up So Long’ is simply superb). A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a special showing of ‘Suspiria’ where Goblin performed the soundtrack live in front of the audience, and this album is a similar construct, in that it contains the music Johnston composed as a soundtrack for ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’, a 1926 silent silhouette animation that is a landmark in cinema history – the world’s first feature-length animated film. To breathe Reiniger’s silhouettes to life, Johnston composed a continuous score of 65 minutes of music to be performed live with the film by a quartet of soprano sax, trombone, and two keyboards, against a pre-recorded track of samples, loops and live drums. For this recording, the music is performed by Johnston (soprano saxophone) with Australian musicians James Greening (trombone), Alister Spence (organ, keyboards), Casey Golden (organ, keyboards), and Nic Cecire (drums), and broken by the composer into twelve individual tracks.
This is a complex album, one that needs close attention paid to it as the musicians embrace themes which may or may not be repeated, going off in tangents to the original, with trombone often playing a heavy bass part to contrast against the sax. The keyboards and drums are often in the background, with the brass taking centre stage. It is an album the definitely requires repeated listening, as the first time I felt there were certain passages and sections which were passing me by, all of which made far more sense the more time I allowed myself with the album. Well worth investigating, I just hope that Johnston will feel fit at some point to pop over the ditch from Australia and have some performances of this with the film here in New Zealand, as it would be well worth attending. 8/10
At the same time as releasing Johnston’s soundtrack album, Asynchronous are also releasing the debut album by Johnston with his band The Coolerators, a band he formed after moving to Australia in 2005. On this album he provides both soprano and alto saxophone, and he has been joined by Alister Spence (organ), Lloyd Swanton (bass) with
Nick Cecire (drums). Here we have a band showing that when it comes to playing jazz and blues there is often an overlap, here brought together with a huge amount of swing and funk. Swanton and Cecire do their best to provide a structure for the other two to work on, and then stay out the way while also displaying their own wonderful musical ability. Cecire is the more flamboyant of the two, with an impressive work rate on different areas of the kit, but Swanton keeps it all tied down and doesn’t let the band get too out of control.
Given the way Johnston and Spence combine together, or against one another, mixing in multiple influences and styles that is indeed no mean task. The title song sounds influenced by South America, India, Morocco and the Middle East but somehow all comes together and makes sense as Spence allows Johnston to take a far more prominent role. Two albums released at the same time, but two very different styles indeed, and it is hard to say which one is better, so best say instead that they are both indeed well worth investigating. 8/10